Recent Ninth Circuit Opinions Address Standing and the Meaning of “Automatic Telephone Dialing System”

The Ninth Circuit recently issued two noteworthy TCPA decisions.  Most recently, in Borden v. eFinancial, LLC, No. 21-35746, 2022 WL 16955661 (9th Cir. Nov. 16, 2022), the Court addressed one of the most hot-button issues in this space:  the definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”).  Shortly before that, in Chennette v. Porch.com, Inc., 50 F.4th 1217 (9th Cir. 2022), the Ninth Circuit discussed both Article III and statutory standing.

Borden and the ATDS Definition

In a unanimous opinion, the Ninth Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a text message TCPA suit based on its holding that to qualify as an ATDS, dialing equipment “must generate and dial random or sequential telephone numbers,” not just any numbers.  See Borden, 2022 WL 16955661, at *1.

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DNJ Enters Default Judgment on Breach of Contract Counterclaim in Manufactured TCPA Lawsuit

The United States District Court of New Jersey recently granted default judgment to Defendant Slack Technologies (“Defendant”) for its breach of contract counterclaim against Plaintiff Gino D’Ottavio (“Plaintiff”), who deliberately sent himself over 1,500 text messages but represented that the texts were unsolicited and sent improperly by Defendant.

In D’Ottavio v. Slack Technologies, No. 1:18-cv-09082-NLH-AMD, 2022 WL 15442211 (D. N.J. Oct. 26, 2022), Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Defendant for allegedly knowingly and/or willfully and negligently violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227. Plaintiff asserted he received numerous unsolicited text messages after signing up for Defendant’s service. Defendant denied Plaintiff’s claims and asserted that Plaintiff abused a feature on Defendant’s website. Defendant specifically asserted, “Plaintiff is a serial filer of TCPA claims who personally solicited 1,590 text messages from Defendant by entering his own phone number and clicking a ‘SEND LINK’ button in an effort to manufacture a lawsuit.” Defendant brought four counterclaims against Plaintiff: (1) willful and wanton misconduct; (2) common-law fraud; (3) breach of express contract; and (4) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

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The FCC Has Illegal and Scam Robotexting in its Sights, Proposed New Text Blocking Rules

For those regularly monitoring the FCC’s various TCPA dockets, you now have a new docket to follow: CG Docket No. 21-402. The FCC announced on September 27, 2022 that all Commissioners had voted to commence a new robotext proceeding, releasing the text of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) the same day. Comments and reply comments will be due 30 and 45 days respectively from the time a summary of the Notice is published in the Federal Register, which has not yet occurred as of the publication of this post.

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Eleventh Circuit Applies TransUnion and Vacates Class Certification

The Eleventh Circuit recently decertified a TCPA settlement class because the class definition included members who could never have Article III standing under Eleventh Circuit precedent.  Drazen v. Pinto, — F.4th –, No. 21-10199, 2022 WL 2963470, at *4-7 (11th Cir. July 27, 2022).  The court applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez and ruled that all members of a Rule 23(e) settlement class must have Article III standing to recover damages.  Id. at *5-6 (citing TransUnion, 141 S. Ct. 2190, 2208 (2021)).  The Drazen court expressly rejected the proposition that plaintiffs with no standing in the Eleventh Circuit could be part of a nationwide class, even if they may have standing in another circuit.  Id.  As of the date of publication, Drazen is the first and only decision from a federal appellate court that analyzes TCPA claims under the TransUnion rubric.  Although the impact of Drazen outside of the Eleventh Circuit remains unclear, the case demonstrates how courts may analyze Article III standing issues in TCPA class actions going forward.

As readers of this blog are aware, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in TransUnion, LLC v. Ramirez last summer.  The decision reaffirmed that plaintiffs must demonstrate a “concrete harm” to establish Article III standing to sue in federal court.  TransUnion, 141 S. Ct. at 2200.  Moreover, in footnote 4 of the TransUnion decision, the Court explicitly stated that it was not addressing the “distinct question whether every class member must demonstrate standing before a court certifies a class.”  Id. at 2208 n.4.

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Texas District Court Joins the Third, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal, Permitting a Private Right of Action for Violation of Section 64.1200(d)

The Northern District of Texas, in Powers v. One Technologies, LLC, joined its sister courts and the Third, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal to hold that 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(d), which prohibits certain telemarketing communications to “residential telephone subscriber[s]” without properly maintaining a list of persons on the national do-not-call list, provides a private right of action under the TCPA. 2022 WL 2992881, at *2 (N.D. Tex. July 28, 2022).

The plaintiffs sued under Section 64.1200(d), alleging that One Technologies violated the TCPA when the plaintiffs received unsolicited, unlawful text messages.  Specifically, they alleged that One Technologies did not have or maintain “a procedure for maintaining a do-not-call list.”

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District of Connecticut Rejects ATDS Allegations in Complaint Against Subway

The District of Connecticut recently dismissed a TCPA action against the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust (“Subway”) because plaintiff failed to allege that Subway used an ATDS to send text messages to her cell phone.  Soliman v. Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust Ltd., No. 3:19-cv-592, 2022 WL 2802347 (D. Conn. July 18, 2022).  The court held that “[t]he TCPA is clear:  a device is not an automatic telephone dialing system merely because it generates random or sequential index numbers that are used in turn to select which numbers to call from a stored list.”  Id. at *3 (emphasis in original).  The ruling serves as yet another example of a dialing technology that does not meet the definition of an ATDS following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid, 141 S. Ct. 1163, 1171 (2021).

In Soliman, plaintiff alleged that she received a text message from Subway offering her a free bag of potato chips.  Id. at *1.  Plaintiff further alleged that she replied “STOP” to unsubscribe from the text messages but claimed that Subway texted her again a few days later.  Id. at *1.  Plaintiff subsequently filed a two-count class action lawsuit against Subway for negligently and intentionally violating the TCPA.  Id.  Subway filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.  Id.

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Southern District of New York Denies Motion to Dismiss Because Plaintiff Sufficiently Alleged That He Was a “Residential Subscriber”

The TCPA’s Do Not Call (DNC) regulations prohibit telephone solicitations to “residential telephone subscriber[s]” who have “registered [their] telephone number on the national do-not-call registry.” See 47 C.F.R. § 64.1200(c)(2). However, as we noted in a recent post, several district courts have found that the term “residential telephones,” as used in the DNC regulations, may include cell phones under certain circumstances, such as when cell phones are used primarily for “personal, family, and household” matters. See Hunsinger v. Alpha Cash Buyers, LLC, 3:21-cv-1598-D, 2022 WL 562761, at *2 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2022) (collecting cases). Nonetheless, other courts have rejected this proposition. See id. at *2 (citing Callier v. GreenSky, Inc., EP-20-CV-00304, 2021 WL 2688622, at *6 (W.D. Tex. May 10, 2021)).

In Rose v. New TSI Holdings, Inc., the Southern District of New York recently held that a plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss arguing that plaintiff’s cell phone could not qualify as a “residential telephone.” No. 21-CV-5519, 2022 WL 912967 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 28, 2022).  Specifically, plaintiff alleged that he received twelve unsolicited calls from 2018 through 2021 after he visited Boston Sports Club even though his number had been listed on the DNC Registry since 2004. He alleged that he received the messages even after he told defendant to stop calling/texting him at least five times, and that some of the calls included identical prerecorded promotional messages.

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Court Rejects Healthcare Facility’s Use of Emergency Purpose Exception

The Middle District of Florida recently held that a defendant cannot invoke the “emergency purposes” exception to the TCPA if the defendant continues to send messages after the plaintiff has instructed the defendant to stop.  In Farhat v. Unique Healthcare Systems, Inc., the Plaintiff claimed that her healthcare provider had sent her four messages within a four-week period with regard to free COVID-19 testing at the Defendant’s locations.

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Eighth Circuit Finds That System That Sends Texts to Stored Numbers is Not an ATDS, Rejects Plaintiffs’ Interpretation of Footnote 7 in Facebook v. Duguid

Last week, the Eighth Circuit affirmed a finding that a dialing system does not qualify as an ATDS if it randomly selects numbers from a stored list. See Beal v. Truman Road Dev. (8th Cir. Mar. 24, 2022). The decision explains that dialing equipment is not an ATDS if it does not produce those numbers (either randomly or sequentially) in the first place, and is notable for flatly rejecting a misreading of Facebook v. Duguid that plaintiffs have been peddling for nearly a year now.

The court’s analysis turns on the mechanics of the dialing system and plain language of the statute. The defendants were drinking establishments that use the “Txt Live” platform to send promotional text messages to numbers that were manually entered by the defendant’s employees. Specifically, the platform allowed employees to filter down to a target list of recipients based on demographic factors, select the number of potential customers to receive the message, draft or select the content of the message, and then send messages to designated recipients. To do so, it “shuffles the target contacts using a numerically based randomizer. If the number of people who meet the filtered criteria exceed the number of people to whom the message will be sent, Txt Live selects the recipients at the top of the randomized list first.” Id. at 3.

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Texts Regarding COVID Vaccine Eligibility Are Not Actionable Under TCPA, Texas Northern District Holds

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas recently held that unsolicited text messages that simply inform recipients of the availability of a free COVID-19 vaccine are protected by the “emergency purposes” exception to the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement and also do not qualify as telephone “solicitations” prohibited by the FCC’s do-not-call (DNC) rules.

In Horton v. Tarrant County Hospital District, No. 4:22-CV-9-P, 2022 WL 702536 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 4, 2022), the plaintiff alleged that he received a single unsolicited text message from the defendant, a public hospital district, announcing that “everyone ages 12 and up is eligible for the COVID vaccine.” Mr. Horton alleged that the text was sent without his consent in violation of the TCPA’s prohibition on autodialed calls as well as the rule against solicitations to telephone numbers on the national DNC list.

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